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Around The Grange
Residents split over divided towns, new districts

By Alison Shea and Emily Groves, Norwich Bulletin (12/1/11)

  DECEMBER 1, 2011 --

A redistricting plan unveiled by party leadership in the state Legislature late Wednesday night is getting mixed reactions from officials and residents.

The new state Assembly and Senate district alignments, based on the results of the 2010 census, won’t take effect until 2013. Ten years of growth in Eastern Connecticut means big changes for several districts.

Norwich will have three representatives for the first time in a decade. Mayor Peter Nystrom said that leaves the city well-positioned in Hartford.

“It’s obviously a plus for us. If you go back 30 years, that’s how it was, so it’s a gain for the city,” he said.

The newest district in the city will be the 139th, now represented by Kevin Ryan, D-Montville. Ryan’s position as a deputy house speaker is a plus for the city as well, Nystrom said.

“We will be calling on him,” Nystrom said. “I welcome him representing the city of Norwich.”

Farther north, the 45th District, represented by Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold, will gain Sterling and lose half of Lisbon along with part of Plainfield.

Arthur Wall, of Sterling, said representation is mainly about the person doing the job. He said he’s seen state Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, who represents Sterling now, at town events.

“I know everyone thinks she’s done a great job, so I’ll be sad to see her go,” Wall said. “I hope the next guy can do a good job, too.”

Sterling First Selectman Russell Gray said his interactions with Mikutel have always been good, but he’s been very happy with Flexer. He said Flexer has been active in Sterling and is even a member of the local Ekonk Grange, so he does not see her interest in Sterling disappearing.

“I think, if anything at all, this is going to make my position better, because if I have any type of issue, I can go to two people,” Gray said. “I don’t see that I stand to lose. If anything, it can open a door.”

In Lisbon, which will be split in two after 10 years of being unified under Mikutel, First Selectman Tom Sparkman wasn’t worried about keeping his town’s voice heard in Hartford. But splitting the town into two districts would require a second polling place, he said, which could add some expense to each Election Day.

Split towns

In other towns in a similar situation, residents and officials said they hope to see more information soon about the new district lines.

In Colchester, most of the town will be in the 48th District, but a western portion along the East Hampton town line will be in the 34th. Tearice Peters, who lives in the western part of town, wasn’t sure what the changes meant for her.

“I need more details. There’s a lot of open space there, so it may not affect that many voters,” she said.

Lebanon Registrar of Voters Mary Beth Yarmac said she was caught off guard by news that Lebanon would be split between districts. Two-thirds of Lebanon will now be in the 48th District, along with most of Colchester, a sliver of North Windham and a portion of southern Mansfield. The rest of town will be in the 47th District, a sprawling district that will include Chaplin, Hampton and Canterbury through northern Norwich.

If the committee thought to divide Lebanon, with only 4,500 voters, Yarmac said, “it looks like they’re trying to come out to very close numbers.”

The Legislature’s close numbers also mean more work for registrars like Yarmac, whose towns are newly divided, she said.

“They’ve drawn a line on the map, now we have to see where people’s houses fall and let them know what district they’re in,” she said.

In another corner of the 47th District, Alan Nichols, of Canterbury, said the size of the district didn’t bother him as much as the towns Canterbury will be paired with.

“Similar towns have similar problems,” Nichols said. “I like Canterbury with Scotland and Sprague and those towns, but I don’t think we have much in common with Norwich, or even with Lisbon, with that big development.”

Reporters Adam Benson and Ryan Blessing also contributed to this story.

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